The truth on how résumés get eliminated

Have you sent out hundreds of résumés and received NO response? Are you getting frustrated? Why are you getting eliminated? In this blog, I am going to explain the harsh reality of what happens when you apply, and provide some tips on how to help your résumés to be viewed and land you an interview.

When a job-seeker is being considered for an open opportunity, the first person who will read their résumé is generally either a recruiter or an HR person. If it’s a recruiter, it could be either a 3rd-party, agency-based head-hunter type, or an internal, company-based corporate recruiter. If it’s someone in HR, it could be anyone from an entry-level screener to a Director of HR.

This screening and elimination process happens when you respond to online job postings and during proactive searches for candidates done on résumé banks like CareerBuilder, Monster, etc., or on Social Networks like LinkedIn. Basically, anyone who is looking for, and screening potential candidates, for an open job opportunity goes through this process.

While some people do make it through the online submissions, it is few and far between. That’s why you must not just rely on submitting the resume online but also seek individuals within the firm who can alert the hiring person about a potentially good candidate. The number of résumés that a recruiter reviews makes it challenging to stand out. Most résumés and online applications go into the proverbial “Black Hole of HR.”

Now I’m sure that you slaved over your résumé for hours and hours, writing and re-writing it, revising, refining and retooling its language until it’s as “perfect” as it can be. If you are like most serious job-seekers, you are hoping that the person who first screens your masterpiece will take their time and read it over very carefully – absorbing every detail of your background, analyzing your qualifications and experience, and making a carefully considered, informed decision about your fit for the position they are trying to fill. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. The reality is the average time a résumé-reader will give your résumé is 7 seconds on the first pass. They’ll scan the first page of your résumé, rarely progressing on to the second or third pages. If they don’t quickly see exactly what they think they want or need right up front – you are eliminated.

In my many years of hiring, I have read my share of résumés. There were times when I went through over a hundred a day. I certainly know how this elimination game works! So, what follows is a peek behind the curtain of how it works. Employers want someone who can solve their pain and fill a spot, they really don’t care what they can do for you – it is what can you do for them. They have a business to run and need to make sure they get the best candidate to fill the opening.

Deal killers that will get you eliminated before you even get through the door.

Typos, Spelling or Grammatical Errors, Poor Writing – If you are so careless that you can’t even proofread your own résumé, then the assumption is that you would be equally careless with your job performance.

An unfocused résumé – Simply put, make sure the first top half of the first page clearly states: what you are looking for; what you have to offer; and why the company should hire you. Get to the point. The rest of the résumé should back up your profile. I have seen a résumé where an individual was wanting to be hired as a project manager and his last job was as a developer. He was very frustrated as no one looked at him for a project manager job. When he changed his resume and identified that he wanted a project management position on the first half of the resume,  in addition to stating that he had ten years of experience as a developer and an MBA in technology, he began to get interviews as a Project Manager and was hired. Employers are not mind-readers and need you to shape your resume so they understand what you want.

A poorly designed and incomplete profile on LinkedIn – More and more recruiters, and employers, are finding candidates by searching on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is not Facebook and that means you need to put your best professional foot forward. This starts with your picture – it must be professional. I had a young lawyer who was applying for an articling position and had a picture of herself sitting on a couch with a glass of wine in her hand. Would you want this person representing your firm? You want to show the employer that you can represent the company and be taken seriously. Make sure your profile is filled out and is not an exact replica of your resume-it is supposed to be a teaser to get the employer to contact you for more information. A number of my clients have been found on LinkedIn based on their profile.

No keywords in your résumé –. To speed up the process in searches – keyword searches are usually the first method used to find résumés with specific skills that match job descriptions. If the right words or phrases are not present in your résumé or profile, you simply won’t come up in a search done by a recruiter or an HR person. Recruiters do not have the time to “read between the lines” on your résumé and realize that you have the skills they need. No one will understand the subtle details of your experience without you clearly stating them. You should modify and tailor your résumé to each individual job you are applying to, using the language contained in the job description. If your résumé does not contain the exact buzzwords or phrases that match the language of the requirements listed in the job description, it is harder to get past the screening tools – be it a person or an online applicant tracking system (ATS).

Location – With very few exceptions, employers prefer candidates that live in the same geographic area as the job. You may say you are willing to relocate…but if an employer has a person with similar skills to you who lives locally, you may not make the cut into the interview pile.

Industry – In most cases, employers prefer to hire individuals who already know the industry. For example, if the job is in the Financial Services industry and you come from manufacturing, it will be a challenge to be considered. However with the right résumé and presenting some of the transferrable skills you offer it is possible to be considered.

Function – Moving from one job function to another, that you’ve had little or no experience with, is an uphill battle. For example, if they are looking for someone with a sales background, but you have never actually been in a sales role  you will need to write a compelling profile that explains why you fit.

Level – If they are looking for an individual contributor, and you’ve been at a much higher level – say managing other people or a department… it’s not a match. Conversely, if they are looking for a Manager or a VP or a C-Level Executive, and you’ve never held those titles, it is a challenge.

Number of Years of Experience – and How Recent If the job description calls for someone with 3-5 years of experience, and you’ve had 10-15 years… it’s not a match. Similarly, if the required experience is actually listed on your résumé–but it occurred many years and several jobs ago, and you’ve done other unrelated things since–it will be a barrier.

Education – Some companies require a college degree or a specific type of certification. If they say you must have a B.A. and all you’ve got is an Associate’s Degree–or no degree at all–it may get you eliminated unless your experience is so strong that it overshadows the lack of a degree. In this case, it might make sense to put your experience first and the education last. I worked with a Regional Sales Manager that had no formal sales education and had not completed a university degree in Geography. He had multiple offers despite this as he placed his experience first

Job Turnover – If your job history shows too many short stints over a limited time period, it can read as a negative: you might be a job-hopping flight risk.  You seemingly can’t hold down a job…perhaps you don’t get along with others well… there may have been performance issues that got you fired–the imagination creates all kinds of possible scenarios! Likewise, significant unexplained gaps between jobs can be red flags that will get you eliminated. There may be perfectly valid reasons for having a lot of jobs within a short period (mass layoffs, the position was eliminated, the company went out of business, etc.). I would advise briefly listing the reasons for short job stints right next to the dates on your résumé to avoid this obvious red flag.

The layout of résumé – As anyone in marketing can tell you–the way information is presented can make one product be chosen over another despite the products being very similar. Whether we like it or not a résumé is the one piece in the jobseeker’s marketing campaign to get noticed by an employer and if your resume is easy to read, and visually pleasing this will help you to get into the “yes pile” for an interview.

It is important to take these into consideration when applying and not be discouraged. It is often for these reasons why individuals will seek the help of a professional résumé writer as they have experience in helping clients overcome and position themselves in the best possible light.

About Dorothy Keenan of FutureWorks

Dorothy is a certified résumé writer with 25 years of experience in providing career advice and support to 5,000 professionals in diverse industries including technology, science, gaming, trades, finance, manufacturing, warehouse, and administration to find fulfilling careers. Through her work, she has gained a solid understanding of the needs of British Columbia’s dynamic labour force. Her expertise in developing résumés, LinkedIn profiles, and cover letters has helped her clients move forward in their careers. For more information visit or contact

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash